Normally, this is the spot where I preview the upcoming weekend’s race. I’m still going to give my perspective on what to watch for during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach; but I have somewhat of a rant to get off of my chest first.
This past Tuesday, Andretti Autosport announced that the No.25 car would not run at Long Beach this weekend. As we all know, that car was piloted by Simona de Silvestro in the first two races. She didn’t fare so well at St. Petersburg, where she finished eighteenth; but she had a brilliant showing last weekend in New Orleans, finishing fourth.
As far as I can tell, Michael Andretti funded those first two outings out of his own pocket. Other than logos from Firestone and Honda and the various IndyCar mandated stickers, the prominent signage on the car was that of Andretti Autosport – which is usually the tell-tale sign that there is no sponsor.
This has always been considered a race-to-race deal and no one ever presented it as a full-time ride for Simona. You could never tell that from the outrage that surfaced on social media on Tuesday and Tuesday night. That night, I posted on Twitter that I did not understand all the angst that I was seeing from those that felt Simona had been wronged by not getting to run this weekend.
While many agreed with me, others did not. One person responded to me saying that Michael “…could find some emergency funds somewhere”. Seriously? Emergency funds are for just that…emergencies. As much as I like Simona, her not having a ride at Long Beach is not an emergency.
The theme from all of the hand-wringing I read over this was that since Michael Andretti ran Simona de Silvestro in the first two races, he was somehow obligated to run her at Long Beach. If he had to put his team in a precarious financial predicament to do so…well, so be it.
In case no one has noticed, running an IndyCar team is a business. Curt Cavin often refers to these teams as individual “mom & pop” operations. While it is tough to imagine Roger Penske as owner of a “mom & pop”, that’s what the majority of teams are. These teams run on thin margins at best – many times, they lose money.
As I said earlier, all signs point to Michael Andretti funding her first two races himself. But does that mean she is now entitled to run more races with no sponsorship? The last time I checked, Andretti Autosport was not a non-profit organization set up for charity. Most successful businessmen did not attain that status by making many poor business decisions. In Michael’s eyes, running Simona again with no sponsorship was apparently a poor business decision. These fans on Twitter sure felt free telling Michael Andretti how he should spend his money.
Simona de Silvestro already has a deal with Michael for the Indianapolis 500, I don’t think that she has fallen out of favor at Andretti. I am very confident in speculating that his was a decision based strictly on dollars and cents.
I have no way of knowing how much money it costs to run a car on a per-race basis, but I know it’s not cheap. When you consider a crew probably has around 12-15 people that need to be paid, fed, transported and sheltered. Plus an additional transporter for the additional car and spare parts would be needed. That additional car will burn additional fuel and tires, also. Add it all together, and it is probably a significant sum that Michael Andretti didn’t care to spend one more time.
I’m more incensed that the likes of Francesco Dracone and Sebastian Saavedra will both be in cars this weekend, more than I am that Simona will not.
So I’ll finish the rant portion with this; as much of a fan as I am of Simona de Silvestro – I do not fault Michael Andretti in the least for parking that car this weekend. There are no free rides in life, and especially in IndyCar. Simona knows that, and to her credit – she hasn’t whined one bit. But the small percentage of her fans that think Michael Andretti has done her an injustice, are living in fantasyland.
Now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, on to this weekend…
I say this every year, but the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is on my short list of races I want to attend before I die. Most races pale in comparison when it comes to history and atmosphere – at least, so I’ve been told. I heard Kevin Lee this week on Trackside say that it was his favorite event on the schedule besides the Indianapolis 500. That says a lot.
I know that it appears to be very well-attended. Look at the stands on television, and they appear to be near capacity. I’m an oval guy by nature, but you can see why there are so many street races on the schedule. While most permanent facilities are on the outskirts of town or downright in the boonies; street courses bring the racing to the cities – and the people. The TV product isn’t always great, but those in attendance generally love the event – even if they aren’t huge race fans.
But unlike many street courses, such as Vancouver, Denver, Baltimore and Houston that have come and gone or even come back again for a little bit – Long Beach has been taking place in some form since 1975. Formula 5000, Formula One, CART/Champ Car and the Verizon IndyCar Series have taken their turn hosting events at Long Beach for the past forty years.
Past winners at Long Beach reads like a Who’s Who list in racing. Names like Niki Lauda, Nelson Picquet, Clay Regazzoni and Mario Andretti won Formula One races at the beach. When CART came in 1984, its long list of winners included legendary names like Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Danny Sullivan, Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Sébastien Bourdais, Will Power, Dario Franchitti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
There will be six former Long Beach winners in this year’s field. Three of them, Power, Castroneves and Montoya drive for Team Penske; while the most recent winner in the field, Takuma Sato drives for AJ Foyt.
With the aero kits and the closed-in walls, I expect some pieces of carbon fiber to be flying; but maybe not as much as some. I think most of the drivers learned their lesson at St. Petersburg. Now that they know you can’t go banging into nearby cars, I think most of the drivers will keep their distance and play it safe. After all, it does you no good to press your advantage if you have to duck into the pits for a new front nose every time. And remember – there is not an infinite number of spare noses out there yet.
Honda will be anxious to prove that last weeks race at NOLA was no fluke, simply because of the rain. Chevy will be eager to prove that it was. I’m no engineer, but my money is on Chevy this weekend. But I’m thinking that the Penske juggernaut will not prevail this weekend. My pick for the win on Sunday? Sébastien Bourdais. After a bad call in qualifying last weekend and being in the wrong place at the wrong time when Hunter-Reay ran Simon Pagenaud off the road, I think he’s due. We’ll see.